How to Prepare for MCAT Success

When you’re getting ready to take the MCAT, you want to make sure that you’ve got the basic content and critical thinking skills ready to go. But the part that students sometimes overlook is ensuring that they are prepared for all other aspects of taking the MCAT—both the good and the bad. Proper planning is the key to a successful and stress-free MCAT experience, so keep reading for tips on how to make your Test Day run as smoothly as possible.

Plan proactively for Test Day mishaps

To ensure your MCAT experience is as low-stress and high-success as possible, you’ll want to anticipate anything that could potentially go awry. Here are some tips for getting proactive about Test Day contingencies so that nothing can catch you off guard.
  • Scope out your driving route

    As the weather gets warmer, construction projects start to spring up unexpectedly. If you can, visit your MCAT testing center before Test Day. You want to know how to get there, what the traffic situation is like, where to park, and what’s close by, so you won’t have any surprises on Test Day. Then, drive your exact route to the testing center at the same time of day you will be driving on your actual Test Day, just to make sure that you don’t run into traffic or detours.
    If you can’t visit in person, call the testing center to make sure your Google Maps directions will get you there accurately, ask about parking, and gain some peace of mind about your travel route and time to the testing center.
    Plan to arrive at least half an hour early. Yes, you might get there before they even open, but this way you’ll have time to spare to use the bathroom after you’ve checked in, run through your Kaplan MCAT flashcards, or just center yourself before the big test. This will also allow you to deal with traffic, lack of parking, or any other detour you may encounter on your way without added stress.

  • Evaluate additional variables

    Do you usually drink coffee or take a medication at the same time of day? Do you get hungry at a certain time? Make sure that the week before the test, you get into a test-friendly routine and don’t get crippled by a 9:15 caffeine craving.

  • Prepare for the unexpected

    Pack yourself a mini-pharmacy for your test. You don’t want your great score to be derailed by a stomachache, cough, headache or sniffly nose. Make sure your mini-pharmacy includes Kleenex, Advil, Tums, Chapstick, Robitussin, and Claritin—anything you could possibly need in a Test Day emergency situation.

  • Know how you’re going to use your breaks

    When will you use the bathroom and what will your snacks be? A solid break-time routine will make for smooth sailing between MCAT sections.

  • Check your ID and bring a backup just in case

    Some students take the MCAT near their birthday, which in some states is the expiration date for having a valid driver’s license. Make sure your ID will still be valid on your test date and bring a spare ID, such as a passport, just in case.

  • Prepare the night before

    Lay out everything you’ll need the night before your exam. Test Day staples include:
    ♦ Snacks
    ♦ Lunch
    ♦ Water/energy drink
    ♦ Ibuprofen (for those unwanted MCAT headaches)
    ♦ Valid Identification
    ♦ Sweatshirt/cardigan
    ♦ Flashcards for a quick review before the test
    ♦ Headphones to get in the zone and muffle your panicky fellow testers.
    Put these items next to the clothes that you’ve already picked out, so all you have to do is wake up, get ready for your day, grab your stuff, and go. Make sure you review the AAMC’s list of items that are allowed in the MCAT testing room and during breaks.

Prep for MCAT success

Your eyes snap open to your (extra early) alarm going off. Wide awake, you jump out of bed and immediately start preparing for your day. You’re focused, you’re wired, you’re in the zone. It’s MCAT Test Day. Your post-Test-Day celebration is every bit as important as your during-test routine. While it’s important to plan for the worst, you should walk into the testing center with confidence and the expectation of success. Celebrate accordingly with these post-testing tips:
  • Start going to bed earlier

    Set your bedtime earlier than you’re used to beginning one week before your test date. Most of us go to bed around 11 p.m. or later. For MCAT Test Day, you’re going to want a full night’s sleep, which can be hard to attain for those of us night owls out there. Set your internal clock to get in bed by 10 p.m. or earlier. Start settling in with a book (no computer, iPad, or phone) earlier than you feel like you can actually go to sleep. Do this at least a week prior to your Test Day so you have sufficient time to train yourself to go to bed earlier. By the time the big day rolls around, you’ll be naturally going to bed earlier and waking up with more energy—exactly what you need for Test Day endurance.

  • Eat a normal, but healthy meal

    Test Day is not the right time for your mom to treat you to a big omelette with cheese and a big glass of fresh squeezed OJ, if that’s not what you’re used to eating in the morning. Also, avoid sugary items, which will give you a temporary rush and have you crash mid-test.
    Eat a normal, but healthy meal. Safe bets are granola, fruit, and yogurt. If you’re a coffee drinker, get some coffee. If you’re not, it’s not the right morning to start. Do what you normally do, so nothing out of the ordinary can sidetrack your MCAT performance.

  • You’re done! Don’t panic

    Many pre-med students finish the MCAT absolutely certain that they’ve just failed. They’re sure they’ve scored a 12 and will never be a doctor. Relax. Directly after the test is not the time to analyze every question you believe you missed and stress about forgetting an important equation. It’s over and you’re not getting your score for at least four weeks—so relax and stop worrying. Everyone feels that the MCAT is difficult; you’re not alone. Don’t panic and nullify your score at the end. Just submit and be confident that your hard work is about to reap its rewards.

  • Take a nap

    Seriously. Taking the MCAT can be a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining experience, so treat yourself to some time to rest your brain and recharge.

  • Do something frivolous

    Chances are you have been using every free moment up until Test Day to do something productive and worthwhile, like studying or doing laundry. Take some time to do something totally unproductive. Watch reality TV, start a movie marathon, read a magazine or book for fun, take a walk, or catch up on your Facebook posting.

  • Spend time with friends and family

    Who better to help you celebrate with an after-test dinner or hang out session than the people who have been supporting you throughout your MCAT journey? Catch up with these people and enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to discuss which formulas you recently reviewed or how ready you feel for your test.

  • Make sure to have fun

    Try to avoid having important things lined up directly after Test Day, like moving apartments, taking midterms, or writing huge papers. For one night, at least, celebrate your rocking completion of the MCAT.

Hopefully this provides some direction for your MCAT Test Day and the days leading up to it. This can be a very stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be. Prepare appropriately ahead of time and make sure you’re ready the night before. That way, when you wake up on Test Day morning, all you have to do is show up and show that test who’s boss.

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How would you do if you took the MCAT today?

Take a free practice test

How would you do if you took the MCAT today?